The Booking Diary
In early August, with restrictions starting to ease and patrons allowed to dine in restaurants – observing limited capacity, physical distancing and contract tracing methodology – I finally had the opportunity to dine with friends. As we were relaying our stories of the shutdown, I couldn’t help but notice the restaurant booking diary on the counter. Closed, the book would have been 2-3 inches thick and the edges of the pages, between covers, told a very telling story: ruffled, blackened pages, followed by a thick row of clean edges and the beginnings of ruffled ones again. It showed a timeline of hospitality in 2020 in physical form; as a Food and Beverage Manager for a National Institution in Canberra, looking after functions and a cafe, my story reads much like those pages.
The thick smoke and poor air quality that descended on Canberra for the most part of January forced the intermediate closure of the cafe and placed a dim prospectus on future functions. Though come end of February things seemed like a normal, busy year. With the first week of March starting like no other: overseeing the service of 109x buffet breakfasts, 130x buffet morning/afternoon teas, 50x plated lunches, 3332x canapés, 1006x entrees, 1246x main courses and 1246x desserts, not to mention the volumes of litres of tea, coffee and alcohol. It was that weekend cases of Covid-19 were first reported on Australian shores.
Monday: phone calls and emails bombarded my office, each enquiring to cancellation policies, notice to cancel and questions on my opinion towards the best course of action moving forward. Within a fortnight only three bookings remained in the 2020 calendar – all brides willing to ride the wave. During this onslaught of cancellations, sitting at my desk, I cried: every event booking had been a personal feat; my position being as much sales as service delivery. The following Monday, with no events to look after and little office work requiring attention, I was allocated to the cafe. By this point, Scott Morrison and Brendan Murphy provided a press conference each evening: an update on the numbers, epidemiology and on every other evening a rolling set of restrictions.
By the 23rd March, restricted to take away only, we were doing roughly ten checks a day, a far cry from the usual 280-or-so a month prior. As one of three full-time staff members, I witnessed each casual cafe, kitchen and function staff member being stood down: mothers, fathers, home-owners, renters, friends. That Thursday afternoon, shutting early, our doors closed indefinitely. I was one of the lucky ones, surviving on annual leave. Though with no job or prospectus of when I might return to work: the pages remained empty, clean.
Today, thanks to the efforts of every Australian observing social distancing, getting tested, undertaking lockdown and obliging with ‘checking-in’, we are once again able to operate. Not quite to our full capacity, but function bookings are once again coming through and pages are being turned and ruffled.